Governments for each of the home nations have sought to free up capacity within their respective health services by suspending or limiting the general practice QOF (quality and outcomes framework) and cancelling non-urgent procedures in secondary care.
The move comes amid the growing demands posed by the corona virus outbreak, with more than 2,000 confirmed cases having so far been registered across the UK.
Northern Ireland was the first part of the UK to take action with Stormont health minister Robin Swann announcing on 13 March that the QOF was suspended in Northern Ireland.
The decision, which practices have been assured will not affect payments relating to the performance-assessment framework, was necessary owing to what Mr Swann described as ‘the biggest public-health challenge for at least a generation’.
In Wales, the Welsh Government wrote to GPs on 17 March advising it was temporarily relaxing aspects of the Welsh general medical services contract. This includes the suspension of all end-of-financial year reporting requirements, other than access standards, until 30 September next year.
Ministers confirmed QI (quality improvement) projects within the Quality Assurance and Improvement Framework will also be suspended for the same period.
In their letter to GPs, they said: ‘The deadline for completion of QI projects is extended until 30 September 2021; an extension of one year to allow practices to refocus efforts during this time. This is a significant move to provide increased capacity to practices.’
The Scottish Government announced on 17 March that all non-urgent and elective care provided by the NHS in Scotland would be postponed until further notice.
Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman said the move, which will see elective procedures such as hernia, gallbladder, orthopaedic and gynaecological surgery cancelled, said the move was necessary to free up capacity in the country’s hospitals.
She said: ‘We have been clear from the outset about the challenges our health service will face in the weeks and months to come from coronavirus.
‘While our NHS is prepared and has a proven track record of dealing with these types of outbreak, we want to free up capacity in our hospital settings and ensure access to beds for those who need them.
‘That’s why we have asked boards to start scaling down non-urgent elective operations from now until further notice.
‘Vital cancer treatments, emergency, maternity, and urgent care will continue, and patients have our assurance that all appointments will be rescheduled as quickly as possible as we get through the challenge to our NHS that COVID-19 presents.
‘While these are undoubtedly difficult times, we fully expect our NHS to ensure patients are treated in line with their clinical priority, and the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients has been a priority in all of our planning.’
As in Wales, the Scottish Government has also announced that viral testing for frontline NHS staff would be prioritised to avoid exacerbating staff shortages as a result of unnecessary self-isolation.
Although not suspended in England the QOF has been relaxed with practices being told they will not be financially penalised if their performance suffers as a result of the additional burdens posed by COVID-19.